You know it’s summer in Ireland when June’s relatively good weather has turned into wind and rain and when you start to read reports about the MacGill Summer School. Reading reports is as far as this has gone for me, as I have never been at it – so maybe that should be my ambition for next year. Heavens, I don’t even know whether you can just turn up or need to be invited.
Anyway, this year’s programme has been on the theme of ‘Reforming the Republic’, which is a kind of fashionable topic right now, as it tens to allow anyone and everyone to indulge in their whinge of choice. However, the reports of the event have been interesting, and individual speakers have pursued ideas and thoughts that could well be helpful as we try to work our way back to a better state of the nation.
On Thursday there was a session on education reform, and this was used by Hugh Brady, President of UCD, to set out the case for tuition fees (and point to the collateral damage caused by ‘free fees’ to university car parking). In addition, he warned that it may no longer be feasible for universities to increase student intake in the light of the funding problems they face. The risks we run by not facing up to the funding of Irish higher education and the return of fees was also addressed a day later, on Friday, by former EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland.
The still developing Irish tradition of summer schools is quite unique, as far as I am aware – and their capacity to stimulate informed national debate is hugely valuable. It is a practice we should nurture.